Darkness was a perpetual irritation, particularly for a creature like Kol. He was not only trapped in it—he was a part of it. For centuries, he’d lived without light. The darkness of the temple he lived in was incidental compared to the inky black of the mood he’d wallowed in since the day the doors had slid closed, trapping him and his multitude of brethren inside to sleep for half a millennium.
He’d lost count of the days since the light had gone out, but guessed it had to be close to the five centuries the dragons’ cycle of sleep should last. He could have done the math, but didn’t care to. What purpose would it serve to mark time in such a place? Particularly when you were the only one awake.
That wasn’t precisely true. They could all be conscious if they chose to be, but aside from himself and the Guardians, the others had chosen to sleep through the centuries. For the first week he’d heard the others in his mind, speaking in subdued voices. Gradually the voices had grown fewer and fewer as they’d succumbed to sleep, until only his twin siblings had been awake, trying to bolster his mood as always. We love you, Kol. We know it’s an honor to be chosen for your job. We’d do it in a heartbeat.
Finishing each other’s sentences, Aurin and Aurik were as oblivious to Kol’s demons as they were to their own strange and shifting symmetry. The two of them reminded him of a gyroscope. As long as their balance of power exchange remained, he believed the Earth probably still maintained its axis. If Aurin and Aurik ever faltered, then Kol would worry about the fate of dragonkind.
In spite of their sentiments, they never would have been chosen for his job. The job of Shadow was only for a black dragon like him. Brilliant gold as the twins were, they were better suited for uplifting humanity than skulking around in the dark.
Skulking was something he was good at, and had been even before doing it for five hundred years. Technically, he was asleep. At least his body was. But his magic, unique to black dragons, allowed him to manifest through his breath. While his physical body slept on, frozen in black jade, the shadow of his breath coalesced into a smaller, human form and lurked about the temple like a ghost, ensuring the security of all who slept within.
Tedious, monotonous, dreary, boring—he could think of so many terms to describe his job. Dragon law dictated that a Shadow watch over the brood each cycle, and he’d been chosen for this one, though he was not precisely chosen so much as compelled. True, he was probably the best candidate for the position, but traditionally, potential Shadows were given a choice because of the psychological toll it took. He was the first one who’d been compelled to do it as a penalty for poor behavior.
He chuckled to himself at that. Speak out against the Council’s outdated ideals and get shoved in a dark prison. Granted, he’d have been here anyway, but at least he could have slept through the whole ordeal and let one of the others like him do the job.
He’d undeniably broken the rules, as archaic as they were. Willfully broken the rules, the Council had said when he stood before them on the eve of his sentence. As if the heart knew anything beyond what made it beat.
Generations had passed since. The lover he’d accepted the sentence for was long dead, but the certainty didn’t help quell the excitement that welled in him knowing how close they were to the end of their confinement. What would he find on the outside? Dragon lore only spoke of vast changes in each cycle, but they were an infinitely adaptable race. Would he look for her? Her descendants? He suddenly wished that he’d had the foresight to mate with her before they’d been parted. He’d already broken one rule by falling in love with her, why not one more by getting her with child? Oh, would that have left the Council in a bind, considering the child wouldn’t have been born until after the temple was sealed. But he hadn’t left anything behind but regret.
It happened sometimes, young dragons breaking the rules prior to their slumber. The marked mates often died of sorrow if the dragon had no elder family to take them in. Any children of such a union would have their magic bound by the Council, and would grow up nameless, forbidden from acquiring treasure. They would spend their lives in service to the Council living in the ancient monastery that served as the central meeting place for their race and the access point for the Dragon Glade from which the Council ruled. Slavery and grief were the last things Kol wanted for a mate and child of his own. His lover may have grieved him, but at least he’d left her with the freedom to move on.
Even thinking the name after the centuries without her brought back the memories of their time together. The loss twisted painfully in his chest, sharp as a blade. The discomfort was enough to make him pause in his mindless patrol of the temple corridors. Sleep would be nice right now. Sleep would have been nice for the last five hundred years, but it wasn’t for him. And he didn’t want to be the one who slept on the job, even if it were a possibility.
At least he had the Guardians for company during his daily patrols. They were the second line of defense if their temple were ever prematurely breached, so they existed in a more aroused state of wakefulness than the rest. Kol chuckled at that thought. All of them were asleep in an aroused state; even his massive slumbering form in the room beside the Queen’s sported its own huge erection. They had to be ready when the awakening ritual began. The Guardians were just the most visible. He often wondered what they would look like if the temple were ever actually attacked and they were forced into action. White dragons with massive erections might distract even the most determined grave robber.
The thought made him laugh.
“How goes it, Roka?” he asked, pausing on his rounds in front of his closest friend of the Guardians.
“You tease me with your voice, Shadow. If I had breath, we could have a proper duel and see who triumphed.” The voice permeated Kol’s mind rather than the air between him and the rigid white statue he stood before.
Kol still reached out a hand and rested it on Roka’s shoulder, laughing. “If you had breath, you know mine would overtake yours in a second.”
“We’ll see who gathers the most treasure when we awaken. I’ll wager I get more, even as a guardian.”
“I’ll wager you do too, friend. I don’t see the allure in treasure. Not even humans, as pretty and vibrant as they are.”
“You deserve more after this cycle. You deserve concubines.”
“I do, do I? You know that the Court is already entitled to a multitude of partners if we choose, right?”
Kol smirked at the silence his friend responded with.
“Then why don’t you seem happy about that prospect?”
Mother of all … Roka did always ask the most irritating questions.
“I just want one woman. One sweet morsel to savor for the next few decades after this temple is finally opened. Someone whose world I can change enough to see in her eyes how much I mean to her and her alone.”
“But you’re not a collector? It’s our nature. I want at least two. At least I know what I would do with two. More than that might be … complicated.”
Kol laughed. “Yes, more than two becomes problematic. All I want to collect is the touch of her skin, the silky dew between her thighs, the little sounds she makes that lets me know my touch is affecting her.”
He wandered away from the conversation with his fingertips tingling as though they’d already touched hot skin, memories of Eveline playing over and over in his mind.